Guarding Against a Condescending Tone & Words

The deal with “Condescending”

I want to talk about a topic that I think we as parents need to guard against...speaking with a condescending tone to our children (or anyone for that matter, because our children are listening).  

The definition of condescending is: having or showing a feeling of patronizing (believing that we are more intelligent or better than others) superiority. 

Basically, it’s really a “slap” in the face.

Let me describe the unspoken or spoken messages we are sending to whom we are speaking to when we use condescending language or tone.  They are:

I can’t believe you would be stupid enough to say (do) that!

Surely you don’t really believe that is true?

Do you literally have no idea regarding consequences?

I however, would never do (say) such a thing.

I am never guilty of such an offense.

and the list goes on.

Here, allow me to give you a few examples:

Child helping dad wash the car.  Dad looks at the front where child has washed and says, “Really!!  So I guess you think bugs on the car is considered clean!”  What does child hear?  “You are so stupid that you can’t even get bugs off the car.  I can’t believe that’s the best you can do.”  Instead, Dad could have said, “Hey man, yeah that front is tough to wash.  Let me show you a little trick I use to get those nasty bugs off.  Let’s see if it works for you too.”  Difference...child now wants to do better, instead of feeling humiliated.

Mom is helping child write a paragraph for English class.  Child is mis-spelling words and failing at making complete sentences.  Mom says, “Honey!  I can’t believe you’re misspelling simple words.  You should know these.  This doesn’t even make sense.  I thought you already learned what makes a complete sentence.”  What does child hear?  You fail at writing so why try.  Instead, Mom could have said, “It took me a while to figure out the difference between the different ways to spell “there”.  Let me draw a picture for you to see if it helps.....”  Difference...instead of child becoming exasperated due to the multiple corrections, the child can feel accomplished when they understand the one grammar rule thus leading to confidence to move on to second rule.

Parents, let’s watch our tone.  

Speaking with compassion and respect to our children creates a greater desire to learn and obey.  If our children hear negative “unspoken” messages too often or for too long, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves when we hear our children speaking this way to others and when our relationship with them as adults is not what we would hope.  

Start today.

Monica Irvine

Funeral/Memorial Service Etiquette

Yes, I understand this is not going to be our favorite topic but really, it’s necessary.  Allow me to give an example of why.  Recently, I attended a memorial service for someone and it was really lovely.  There were many in attendance which I’m sure was so appreciated by the family.  When I arrived, the line was quite long to visit with the family to give condolences.  Typically, a long receiving line at a memorial service should not be a matter of concern, as the line should move very quickly. However, this line moved extremely slow.  I soon realized that visitors were spending 5-8 minutes with the bereaved.  This was entirely too long.

Why?  Because it is exhausting for the family to greet so many people, both physically and emotionally.  This is not the appropriate time to “catch up” on the latest news regarding your family.  It is a time to simply give a smile, a hug or a handshake and express with brief but sincere words our condolences.  For instance, “Martha, I am so very sorry for your loss.  I love you and I love your family and know that my thoughts and prayers will be with you during this difficult time.”  Then move on.  If we have a more intimate relationship with the bereaved, then perhaps we can offer our condolences in a more familiar manner, but it should still be very brief.  Due to the length everyone was taking with this family, funeral attendants had to get chairs for the wife of the deceased because her legs were giving out and the service started one hour late.

Perhaps in the coming weeks after a “passing,” we could reach out to the bereaved and visit them in their home for a more lengthly visit.  

A few more things to remember:
  • Our dress should reflect our feelings for the deceased (flip flops, revealing attire, t-shirts, baseball caps, etc. are not appropriate)
  • Please be on time.  If there is a “service” immediately following the “receiving of friends,” then plan on arriving at least 45 minutes prior to the time of the service starting.  Often times, family is removed from the room to rest and have a break up to 30 minutes prior to the service so if you wait too long, you may miss them
  • Bringing children to a funeral or memorial service is entirely appropriate if they can sit quietly for extended periods of time.  It would be very inappropriate to allow children to roam around the room unattended.  They should stay at the side of their parent or other adult family member.
  • Please speak reverently at all times within the walls of the service area.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to remain quiet because often at funerals we see people we haven’t seen in years and there is a bit of excitement over these sweet reunions.  However, we must remain respectful and reverent for those who are in mourning.
As with all things, let’s teach our children these important etiquette considerations so they like us, can send a message to those around them that we care and we value them.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine
Certified Etiquette Educator

Manners Mean Moderation

We are becoming an excessive society.  What do I mean?  I mean...”When will it be enough?”  I think back to my grandparents who lived a very simple life.  They were happy and content with their two bedroom house, because that’s all they needed.  They had a garden, they both enjoyed various hobbies and they spent a lot of time together.  Today, we struggle to ever be satisfied.  We always want a bigger house, a nicer car, more stuff, more exotic vacations, to be skinnier, to have fewer wrinkles, and the list goes and goes and goes.

Let me share an etiquette rule that might help with this.  “A lady and a gentleman are always content with what they have, yet they continuously strive for self improvement and sincere service to others.”  Wow.  Content.  Have we ever felt content?  

Being content does not mean that we don’t strive for improvement or that we don’t have goals, plans and dreams.  It simply means that we do not dwell on what we do not have, but find great joy and peace as we recognize what we do have.  

This is a literally a skill that can be taught and must be taught to our children if they are every going to be truly happy.

So many of us spend too much time thinking that if we only could get “x” then we would be happy or if “this” would happen we would finally find peace or as soon as I get “that” paid off I will finally be free.  People, we have to learn to appreciate today and the moments we are in.  Be present.  Stop going “over the top” with every idea.  Don’t become an extremist with your exercise, your diet, your work, your politics, etc.  When you do, the other things in your life, mainly your family, suffer for it.  I promise you, they do.

Help your children to be present.  Talk often about the things that you appreciate.  Let me give you some examples that help our children learn how to find joy in today and to keep wants and wishes in perspective.  Allow them to hear you say things like; 
  • “Wow, would you look at that sky.  Let’s pull over so we can just take it all in.  How blessed we are to have such a beautiful world.”
  • “Oh my, aren’t we so fortunate to have a house with an air conditioner to save us from this hot day.”
  • “Isn’t it so wonderful that we don’t have to go to bed hungry.  We have so much to be grateful for.”
  • “I love spending time with you.  There’s nothing that makes me happier than spending time with my children.  Thank you.”
Order the small size, offer the best piece to others,  leave at least 2 days/nights a week that nothing is on the schedule for anyone, slow down, use moderation and teach your children to be grateful.  

A lady and a gentleman show grace by being grateful.

Have a great month,

Monica Irvine

Lack of Respect for Sacred Things

If we’re not careful, we are going to raise a generation who do not understand respect for sacred things.  Recently, I was at a Memorial of an event that took place on American soil where many innocent lives were lost.  I was really shocked to see several people and children behaving very inappropriately on such sacred ground.  Parents were allowing their children to run and jump while laughing and screaming.  Teens were busy taking “selfies” while smiling and laughing in front of monuments.  Adults had their cellphones ringing with loud obnoxious ring tones.  I was thinking...”What are we thinking?  How have we become so flippant about such sacred things?”

Parents, we must do better.  We have got to be better examples and help our children to understand the value of life, sacrifice, loss, honor, respect, sacredness.  

It starts when they are very young.  It starts by the way we teach them to use hushed tones and quiet behavior when visiting sacred places.  And just because a place is not sacred to us, does not mean we don’t show respect to those who do view it as sacred.  That’s what respect is.  It means showing that we value the feelings of others through our behavior and words.

Also recently, a young teen received thousands of “hate mail” messages after she posted a “selfie” of herself smiling in front of the ruins of a War World ll concentration camp.  She had no idea that posing and smiling in front of such a horrible reminder of so much pain was inappropriate.  

Once we loose sight of honoring our history, of honoring our heritage and honoring places that others view sacred or holy, then we truly will have become an uncivil society.  

This must be an ongoing conversation with our children.  Start by taking your children to places that represent history and beforehand, study about what took place there, so that they can try to grasp why we visit it and why it is important to remember these people and places that helped shape our world.

A society in danger of loosing their way is a society that is quick to forget the past.  I hope we can all make a better effort in making sure that we pass on to our children a love and admiration for sacred things and may we all be humble enough to understand the importance of it.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine

Obeying First Request

Obeying First Request

How do we teach our children to obey our first request and why is this important?  Many parents struggle with getting their children to respond to their request and once we allow this behavior to continue, then the power struggle really begins.  At first, as you read this you might think that it sounds like I’m supporting the idea of parents being tyrants.  Actually, what I’m supporting is the idea that when we allow our children the option of not obeying our first request, we are doing them a great disservice.  

Parents, if your goals are like my goals, they include the idea of teaching my children to respect authority, cope with hard things, learn to succeed and find the joy in meeting expectations.  All of these skills serve to help our children to be more happy and to continue on their journey to self mastery.  If our children do not obey our first request, there is only one person or couple to blame...US.  Parents, it is due to our inconsistency, our lack of organization and our lack of properly informing our children that we struggle with this issue.  Please allow me to give you a few ideas to help your children learn how to obey “First Request” so that they can have the confidence and the self respect that they need to be happy.

Before we approach our children, mom and dad or parent, has to come together and make sure they are on the “same page.”  This will not work if there is division between parents, especially if these parents are living in the same home.  What needs to be decided is what will be the consequences when our children do not obey our first request.  There DOES NOT need to be a “warning,” “first offense,” and “final offense.”  There should be only one consequence and that is the consequence EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Once that is agreed upon (I recommend extra chores, privileges being taken away, etc.), then it’s time to sit down with our children and the conversation can go something like this:

“Kids, we sure love you.  We are so proud of all the good things that you do.  You are helpful, you are kind and we are really so proud of who you are.  Your mom and I need to help you become better at something and that is obeying our first request.  It is important that you are respectful and obedient when your mom and I ask you to do something.  Here’s what we expect: when your mother or I ask you to do something, we want you to answer us with ‘Yes Ma’am’ or ‘Yes Sir,’ then we want you to stop what you are doing and complete what we have asked you to do.  We will at times, try to be sensitive to what you are doing and might ask you to complete something within a certain period of time,  but at other times, if we do not specify a time period, that means we expect you to do it immediately.  Let’s practice right now.”  (roll play a couple of times).  “Great, I knew you all could do this.  Now, I hope that we never have to give you the consequence for not obeying this request, but if you do choose to ignore our request, then this is going to be the consequence every single time.  Do you understand what we are asking of you?  Do you have any questions?  Great.  Your Mom and I are excited to watch you be successful in obeying our first request.”

I realize that you will decide how you will introduce this concept and how you want your children to respond, but please be as specific as possible so that your children know exactly what is expected of them.  As you are consistent, your family will have more peace, more love and more time to have fun.  Try it and see.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine

How Should Children Address Adults?

What is the etiquette rule regarding how children should address adults?  Children should address adults by their LAST name with an appropriate title like, Mr., Mrs., Ms, Dr., etc.  For some reason, our society is encouraging children to address adults by their first names with an occasional “Ms” in front, like “Ms. Angie.”  Why??????????  Why are we doing this?  Why are we taking away more opportunities for children to show respect towards adults?  Why are we blurring the lines between adults and children?  Why do we think that having a child call us by our first name, like “Ms Monica” somehow makes our relationship “closer” instead of the child calling us by our last name, like Mrs. Irvine?  

Adults, I seem to notice a whole lot of complaining that is directed to the fact that children don’t show respect towards authority any more or towards parents, teachers and other adults.  Do you know who I blame?  Yes.  Us.  I absolutely disagree with the thought process that we can have a more intimate relationship with a child if they call us by our first name.  Does it change the relationship?  You bet it does.  But it does not change the relationship in a way that is beneficial to the child or the relationship.  Children are in need of guidance, wisdom, direction, support, love and acceptance.  They need role models, not more “buddies.”  Children and adults can have an amazing relationship as the children understand the role of the adults in their lives.  Out of respect and honor, children address adults by their last names.  When children learn to stand for adults, answer “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir” to adults and when children learn to allow adults to go in front of them, they are being given a gift.  This gift is the gift of respect for self.  It comes when we know we are being kind and participating in a small act of kindness to help those around us to know how we feel about them.  If more adults remembered their roles as adults to children and stopped trying to get on equal ground with children, we would see healthier relationships between those children and adults.

If you are insistent about a child calling you by your first name, although I hope you aren’t, the proper way to approach this is to approach the parent of the child and ask their permission for their child to call you by your first name.  Only with a parent’s permission should an adult notify a child of this desire.  If a parent does not wish their child to call you by your first name, please honor that.  No one should ever interfere with how a parent is teaching and raising their child unless the child is in some type of danger.  Please let’s do our part to help children have healthy, respectful and appropriate relationships with all adults by starting with the proper way to address one another.

Have a great month.
Monica Irvine

Just Because We Can, Does Not Mean We Should

This month, I would like to speak about a topic that I am rather sensitive about as I see our society getting farther and farther away from this etiquette consideration.  It is polite to be aware of who is within our “earshot” when speaking about certain topics or using particular language.  Something that has most definitely changed in recent decades is the manner that women and men will speak in the presence of those of the opposite sex.  It seems like today, there are little boundaries about conversation.  Let me give you a few things to consider.

Gentlemen, it is not polite for you to speak about vulgar topics, use foul language, speak about gross or inappropriate things when you are in the presence or “earshot” of ladies.  Recently, I was stuck on a crowded bus with two gentlemen standing right in front of me wearing prestigious suits and holding professional briefcases.  They appeared to be quite the gentlemen.  Then, they started speaking.  They began a discussion, with me standing right in front of them that was anything but appropriate.  I thought to myself, “wonder why they think it is OK to speak like that in front of me?”  It was obvious, they didn’t respect me or themselves enough to watch their tongue in front of a lady.  Let me remind us something about manners.  Manners is NOT A LIST OF DO’S AND DON’TS.  It is an OUTWARD EXPRESSION THAT SHOWS HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES AND THOSE AROUND US.  That’s why it matters.

Ladies, it is not polite to speak negatively about men, use foul or inappropriate language or speak of feminine health issues in the presence of gentlemen, especially those we do not have a close personal relationship with.  As ladies, we want to seek helping those around us to feel comfortable and as we speak in a way that is kind, generous and gracious, others will be more comfortable in our presence.

Both ladies and gentlemen should be careful to keep their conversation positive, upbeat and cheerful when speaking at the dinner table and especially when conversing with others in casual conversation.  We want to be a source of strength, encouragement and positive energy to others and the way we use our tongue will most definitely be a source of strength or a source of weakness to ourselves and others.

Let’s do our best to be aware of those around us when it comes to our language and speech.  Yes, this is a free country and yes, you may say whatever you want to.  Just because we can, does not mean we should.  Restraint and respect are two traits that every gentleman and lady has.  Do we?

Patience is an Etiquette Virtue

Oh if we could just be patient.  Rush, rush, rush...that’s what we’re doing these days.  Rushing to school, rushing to work, rushing to the gym, rushing to grab a bite, rushing to do homework, to call a friend and it goes and goes.  I’m exhausted just writing that sentence.  Did you know that being patient and slowing down when the time calls for it, is a virtuous characteristic?  Let me explain and give you a few examples.

When we think of a lady or a gentleman, we usually think of someone who is poised, calm, organized and polite.  I know we all know people who go about their lives like their hair is on fire, 24-7.  I hope this is not us.  These are people who run around in a semi or full blown panic mode most of the day.  I don’t trust these people!  They make me nervous and I don’t have confidence in their ability to make good decisions, get things done on time,  be reliable, etc.  How could they when they are so stressed out all the time?  Slow down.  Even if on the inside, your heart and mind are racing, never let it show.  

It’s also polite to be patient with others and not rush those we are with in any way (perhaps unless we can’t get our children out of the toy store).  For example, it is polite to walk at the pace of the slowest “walker” in our group.  If our family arrives to church and Grandma is with us and Grandma is an extremely slow walker, it is polite for our whole family to walk at Grandma’s speed.  But, we most do so without looking bored, annoyed or bothered.  We must enjoy the leisure walk, conversing and enjoying one another’s company.  It would be very rude for the children to run ahead and leave Grandma far behind.  Be patient.

It is also polite to eat at the speed of the host or the slowest person at our table.  Yes, sometimes people are extremely slow eaters.  However, if we remember our manners and remember that we are trying to help those around us to feel valued, then we would never quickly finish our meal only to leave the other person eating “alone.”  It is also very rude to ever exit the table while others are still dining.  When we do this, we send a very loud and clear message that we were there for one reason and one reason only, to fill our little (or not so little) bellies.  Be patient.

Finally, let’s be more patient with one another’s actions.  Remember, if we could see one another’s intentions, more than their actions, we would probably be much more forgiving and understanding.  Be patient.  We’re all here to learn and to grow.  Hopefully each day, we become a little better than we were yesterday.

Have a great month,
Monica Irvine

Let's Not Break our Children's Spirit

Parents, we must stop speaking to our children behind clinched teeth, with angry eyes and cuttingly sharp voices.  

I have seen time and time again and it seems more often these days, parents speaking and handling their children with such contempt and hostility and impatience that it breaks my heart in two.  When we continue to interact and speak with our children without love, patience and sincerity, we are contributing to them growing up as angry, unhappy children who will bear the scares of emotional damage.

We may not think of ourselves as child abusers, but I assure you, if we are continuing to break our children’s spirit, we are indeed child abusers.  We have only a small amount of time, where we have the opportunity to be our children’s heroes.  When they are young, they are so impressionable and want so desperately to please us and to be loved and cherished as we all do.  

Children will react and exemplify the behavior they learn from their parents and care givers, every single time.

I worked in a preschool during college and while there I learned an invaluable lesson.  I had some children in my class who were aggressive, who were often angry and who struggled to have healthy relationships with other children.  In contrast, I had many children who were kind, gentle, happy and content with most situations.  As I met and got to know the parents of all the children, it soon became evident where the children learned their behaviors (please know that I am not speaking about children who suffer with real behavior issues, cognitive disabilities, social disabilities and the like).  What I witnessed was that the parents who were most often aggressively pulling on their children, impatiently removing or putting on coats, threatening to discipline once home, etc. were the ones who had the most aggressive children.

Then I noticed the parents who came in smiling, hugging, being gentle with their children both with their words and tone as well as physically were the parents with the most gentle children.  The softer the parents spoke and behaved, the more kind were the children.  

You may argue against this idea.  You may want to discuss all the variables that can lead to children’s behavior and personality and I know you would have many valuable points and truths.  I also know there are exceptions.  However, regardless of all of that, if we want gentle, kind children, they MUST see it and feel it from us. 

Please, let’s speak with kindness, handle with gentleness, and be much more patient with these beautiful souls entrusted to us. 

Have a great month,

Monica Irvine